The Home Office have published the annual statistics detailing the use of animals in scientific procedures in the UK for the year 2019.
Prof Dominic Wells, Professor in Translational Medicine, Royal Veterinary College and Chair of the Animal Science Group of the Royal Society of Biology, said:
“Last year there were 3.4 million experimental animal procedures (this is usually higher than the number of animals used as under certain conditions an animal may be reused). A procedure is defined as anything that causes pain, suffering or lasting harm equivalent or greater than the insertion of a hypodermic needle in accordance with good veterinary practice (for example a vaccination). This is the threshold.
“The number of procedures was down 3% compared to 2018, down 9% from 2009 and the lowest number since 2007.
“1.73 million (51%) were experimental procedures and 1.67 million (49%) involved the generation or breeding of Genetically Altered (GA) animals. Even if the genetic modification causes no harm (i.e. is below threshold), breeding natural mutants or genetically engineered animals is counted as a procedure.
“93% of procedures were carried out on mice, fish or rats. Experimental procedures were 61% mice, 16% fish, 9% rats, 8% birds, 5% other species and 1% specially protected species. Procedures for GA animals were 87% mice, 12% fish and 1% rats. The specially protected species are non-human primates, horses, dogs and cats and applications to work with these species undergo additional scrutiny.
“57% of experimental procedures were for the purpose of basic research, most commonly focusing on the immune system, the nervous system, and cancer.
“The actual severity of experimental procedures on animals were 91% sub-threshold, mild or moderate, only 4% were severe and 5% were non-recovery (where the animal does not wake up after anaesthesia).
“The actual severity of procedures for the generation and breeding of GA animals were 98% sub-threshold, mild or moderate, only 2% were severe and less than 0.1% were non-recovery.
“Mild severity is the equivalent of an injection or having a blood sample taken, moderate severity is greater than transient pain (for example surgery under anaesthesia followed by painkillers during recovery), severe suffering is something that we would not wish to endure (for example a heart attack). Animals found dead are commonly classified as severe as pre-mortality suffering often cannot be assessed. Most severe procedures arise in regulatory testing such as evaluation of toxicity of drugs.
“It should be noted that the statistics are for 2019 and so reflect the position pre-COVID-19.
“We have seen a steady decline in the number of procedures involving experimental animals, particularly during the last four years. This may reflect the increased use of alternatives to animals or a reduction of funding for animal research. It is also important to note that the majority of procedures (81.5%) are either mild, subthreshold or non-recovery which indicates minimal animal suffering in the majority of cases.”
‘Statistics of scientific procedures on living animals, Great Britain: 2019’ was published online by the Home Office on Thursday 16th July 2020.